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Sissy’s Log Cabin Begins Offering Training Program to Other Retailers

Bill Jones says, “We want to make the industry a better place for all.”

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WHEN BILL JONES, CEO of the Arkansas-based Sissy’s Log Cabin, began sending improv actors to secret shop store locations, he was at times dismayed by the results. “I thought to myself, how are we still in business?”

During a diamond trade-up event in all of Sissy’s locations, for example, sales associates became so invested in helping the shoppers select a mounting that none of them remembered to show any of the 2-carat loose diamonds the shoppers had asked to see.

From the beginning, Sissy’s training program had been based on having new salespeople learn the ropes organically from Bill himself, but as the business acquired more locations, that learning process was slowing down to the point it would take a trainee two years to get up to full speed. In addition to five Arkansas locations, Sissy’s also has a store in Memphis.

“Bill had an amazing training program, but it was based on him being around all the time,” says William Jones IV, who had the good fortune, he says, to be trained his whole life by the best, including his dad, Bill, and his grandmother and company founder Sissy Jones.

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When William took over the company’s training program two years ago, he was also stymied by geography, spending as many as eight hours a week simply traveling between locations. So he introduced Sissy’s Log Cabin University, based on a series of online courses that helps associates learn the basics of the company’s culture, sales techniques and even gemology. “We started recording our classes and sending them to a store and it worked extremely well,” William says.

It began as an onboarding program so that new hires would complete six hours of classes before they even started working.

He also began incorporating those improv actors who were secret shoppers into the in-person training program to foster relationship building, conversational skills and to ensure that associates can think on their feet.

The entire training program is based on the concept that the jewelry business is experience-based. Customers walking into one of Sissy’s locations may not understand that in order to see and learn about all those products under glass, they need to build a relationship with someone who can show them around. The sales associate, then, must know how to begin to establish that relationship smoothly and to eradicate any potential tension. That’s why monthly improv
training helps build confidence.

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

“What we found out is that when you’re on the sales floor, you can get in uncomfortable situations,” William says. “Improv training is designed to put you in a state where you’re nervous and uncomfortable and you can practice what to do in those situations.” William says that the idea behind the training program is that it’s always better to have 10 returning customers than 10 new customers, so why not ensure every initial encounter leads to a regular client? Price wars aren’t necessary once loyalty is established.

Since introducing the new, formalized training system, Sissy’s has seen what Bill and William describe as remarkable improvements in closing not only engagement ring sales but diamond fashion as well. In order to sell diamond fashion pieces, in particular, sales skills are vital because clients may not have a good idea of what they want.

“I wish I could take credit,” William says. “But all I did was package this. It is what I grew up learning as I grew up in the business. It takes every ounce of training to operate an experience-based store.”

Sissy’s has begun to make their training program available to other stores, which may not have the resources to develop their own in-house training programs.

It’s branded as Jewelers Sales Academy.

“The question I’m asked most,” Bill says, “is why would I share my secrets? But these aren’t secrets. These are things we have forgotten in retail. This is what everybody used to do. It’s all about relationships, going back to the basics of how to treat people and read body language. How to clientele.

“As the tides rise, all boats rise. We want to make the industry a better place for all.”

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Alex and Gladys Rysman are the third generation to run Romm Jewelers in Brockton, Mass. And after many decades of service to the industry and their community, it was time to close the store and take advantage of some downtime. With three grown children who each had their own careers outside of the industry, they decided to call Wilkerson. Then, the Rysmans did what every jeweler should do: They called other retailers and asked about their own Wilkerson experience. “They all told us what a great experience it was and that’s what made us go with Wilkerson.” says Gladys Rysman. The results? Alex Rysman says he was impressed. “We exceeded whatever I expected to do by a large margin.”

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